Saturday, July 12, 2014

One day as an AD on a Bollywood film set

The SUV took a sharp left turn right before me, moved a few feet and came to a halt. I held the walkie close to my mouth, waiting for visual confirmation. As about 10-15 people gathered around the SUV, the back door opened and I, less than a few feet away, spotted him. I was right. As he got down and swiftly followed the red carpet into his vanity van, I spoke slow and clear into the walkie, controlling my excitement, the news everyone was too eager to hear: “Mr.Amitabh Bachchan is on location!”


It had been a sleepless night after coming home late the previous evening from office. I was way too excited. I woke up as soon as the alarm went off at 6 in the morning. In less than an hour, I was out in the auto on my way to the location. (Okay, rikshaw- still trying to get used to the Bambaiya lingo!)

“Just get me involved in any project. I don’t have much time but I would really like to see how it all works. I want to experience life on a set, for a shoot. I have no clue of the magnitude and amount of work and efforts involved in film production, and before I leave Mumbai I would really like to experience that,” I had told my friend almost a month ago. Things somehow have a magical way of working out in your favour when you are desperately willing to do something.

‘Make sure you are on time. Be prepared to be thrown out if you are delayed by even a minute’, I had been warned yesterday. I reached the studio 45 minutes early.

The walkie-talkie thingy

Two big buses, a generator van, and a couple of cars stood there. People were busy putting up a tent nearby. It was too early and just the production team was on location, looking after all the arrangements. I made my way into the interior set. It was too authentic to believe. The typical hindi film type. Last minute arrangements were being done, props being set, the ‘anacondas’ (aka Air-conditioners) being prepared amidst loads of other activities which I am sure I don’t know was happening. Over the next couple of hours, the actors and the direction team arrived, cameras and lights were set in the first scene to be shot, the food tent was up and we had had breakfast, and I had been assigned a walkie talkie connected to everyone in the AD team.

“Who all hear when I say something on this,” I asked, adjusting the earpiece.

“From the chief AD to the costume AD, everyone. All assistant directors and you interns,” I was told.

It was going to be a few minutes before we, the interns, got told how exactly to use the walkies, what to say and what not. When somebody calls out for you, you don’t say “Yeah, tell me I am listening”, you just say “Go for Antarik”. It was difficult to remember the simple yet military type commands and it was going to take some time to get used to them. It was fun but even by the end of the day, I was making ‘forgivable’ mistakes! Haha…

‘When the director, producer or any of the actors arrive on location or are on their way to the set, whoever is around, announce into the walkie and let the entire AD team know,’ we were further told. I am going to be the one announcing Mr.Bachchan’s arrival, I promised myself.

Celebrity, celebrity, celebrity...

Two of the three main actors were already on location. I was told to go to one of them and deliver the script. As I entered the vanity, I found him sitting casually on the sofa. I handed him the script, he took a look and a short conversation followed. It didn’t strike me until I left the vanity that I had just had a conversation with someone important, someone famous, someone associated with a very famous film I have seen.

There wasn’t much to do right then and I kept roaming around the set and outside near the vanity vans, taking up instructions as and when they came. I was standing outside the set when I saw it.

A dark maroon SUV had entered through the studio gates. From the distance it was difficult to make out who was inside. A police jeep with the sirens off was trailing the car. As soon as I spotted it, I knew what this meant, who was inside. ‘But this is 45 minutes early’, I thought. The SUV took a sharp left turn right before me, moved a few feet and came to a halt. I held the walkie close to my mouth, waiting for visual confirmation. The driver and a middle-aged man from the front seats of the SUV got down, so did the bodyguards from the jeep. And then, as about 10-15 people gathered around the SUV, the back door opened and I, less than a few feet away, spotted him. I was right. As he got down and swiftly followed the red carpet into his vanity van, I spoke slow and clear into the walkie, controlling my excitement, the news everyone was too eager to hear: “Mr.Amitabh Bachchan is on location!”

There was no sudden build up of energy or quickening of work or shouting of instructions. The only change that perhaps happened were the murmurs and plans that everyone seemed to be making for getting to meet Big B on set and getting his autograph or getting a photo clicked with him. But then, the day’s successful shoot was the priority.

'I am on a real film set'

“Antariksh come inside the set immediately,” the Chief AD’s voice came over the walkie. (The entire day passed, but he kept calling me Antariksh. I could have corrected him but then this wasn’t the right time)

And then began about 6-7 hours of life as an AD on a film set (As in literally, ‘on’ the set!) From standing in for the actors before they took their positions, marking positions, watching all the lights and reflectors being set up overhead, the DoP and the Director at times discussing the storyboard, and loads of other things. There was way too much happening simultaneously, but the moment the chief AD shouted ‘Silence’, a series of ‘Silence’ shouts went from the set to the outdoors and everything was still. It was time for the camera to roll.

I think it was during this time that I had the big realization- ‘I am on a real Bollywood film set’. The amazing feeling started to sink in. Yes, it was a big deal and I was way too happy!

For someone who was on a film set for the very first time, there were moments of confusion during the day. Say for example, when the senior AD said ‘Antarik get the BG’, I was left wondering what ‘BG’ meant if not the ‘background’, why was it required in an indoor set, and kept racking my brain for some other previous instruction or discussion regarding the ‘BG’ that I might have forgotten. My dilemma was short-lived as thankfully within a couple of minutes, further detailed instructions followed revealing that ‘BG’ referred to the background actors and I was supposed to be leading all the junior actors to the set. Phew!

And then the 'aura' strikes...

Of course there was the Amitabh Bachchan aura whenever he entered the set and everywhere around him. Everyone was more cautious and courteous, or so it seemed. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of the megastar, get as close to him as they could. (Photography had strictly been forbidden inside the set or with any of the actors in costume) There was one particular moment when I felt this huge ‘aura’, completely unplanned and unexpected:

A senior AD and I were acting as stand-ins for a particular scene involving Mr.Bachchan when suddenly Big B walked in. The AD who had been sitting in for him, stood up and offered him the seat. I had had no instructions yet to move and I stood there still as Amitabh Bachchan took the seat, less than a feet in front of where I stood right now looking down at him. A moment uncalled for and it was then that the majestic aura struck me. Yes, this was the man I have seen for so many years in films, the man who everyone so gladly meets in KBC, the man in front of whose house I stood just a few days ago and clicked pictures, the man who writes a world famous blog and who in the first place inspired me to start my own blog 6 years ago, this was ‘the’ Amitabh Bachchan.

It was a pure close-up I was getting and I clearly saw the wrinkles on his face. Age has taken its toll, but nothing can dampen his spirits. As I received my instructions, I moved out of the frame, behind the camera. Clearly he was the most energetic and vibrant man on the set right now, as he suddenly stood up and humbly called out to anyone who was listening, “Can you please move this chair a bit as my legs don’t fit behind the table?”

There could be no doubts in saying that each and every head was paying attention to him alone.

'Pack Up!'

As the day progressed, I could only appreciate more the coordination with which hundreds of people were working simultaneously, all for one goal. It was amazing.

Hearing the director say ‘Pack up’ was a moment of relief for each and everyone on the set. Saying the words ‘pack up’ has been so normal for us in college, whenever we meant the end of the day or end of a project. It was too casual. But right now, hearing the director, the most important man on set, say the words was a different feeling. Right now, right here, these two simple words are so powerful and for the first time I am hearing them in the right context- it felt amazing!

I stayed there on set for over an hour after the pack up. No I was not bound by any senior’s orders or work. I just wanted to stay there. This had been my first ever day on a real film shoot, I wanted this feeling to sink in slowly.

The day was over. What had been a ‘probably never possible’ dream, had been realized. It was all happening for real. The huge imaginary wall that I thought stood between me and the big ‘Bollywood’ industry, had been broken. The amazing feeling that I was an AD on a real film set and I was contributing to the production of the film in a small but significant way was sinking in. (The crew photo clicked at the end of the day is something I am going to treasure for a long time) I had loved every moment of the day, learnt so many things that I never knew existed (way too more than the learning in college) and the best of all- after more than a year, I was able to get involved in something passionately- where I wanted to get involved, I wanted to work, I wanted to learn as much as I could and I was ready to let go of my food and sleep.

At the end of the day, I thought clicking a picture was important for the memory! And of course, the beloved 'walkie-talkie' 

Basically how the outdoors of a set looks, for all those wondering. I know this doesn't show much, but then, I can't put pictures which do
While returning home that evening with a colleague and friend, I told her, “Frankly speaking, I didn’t feel the aura of having Mr.Amitabh Bachchan on set right there in front of my eyes as much as the aura of realizing that I am on a real film set.”

She smiled and replied, “I understand. And you surely are real lucky that this was your first ever film shooting experience and it was with the biggest actor in the industry!”

I could only smile. Yes, I had been nothing else but really ‘lucky’ to have been part of this shoot, and more importantly, for the one week that I spent at this production house preceding the shoot, I got associated with really good people who were willing to help me learn.

Till a few weeks back, probably I did accept it at some corner of my brain that I and the film industry are two very separate rivers which hardly have the chance of meeting. ‘It’s just a dream, a fascination, a fantasy for so many of us. It’s the big people’s place. We are separated by an invisible boundary. A common man can only dream of getting there,’ I used to think.

But then, the long cherished dream of working on a film set had been lived this past week. I knew I was going to talk about this day to anyone I could, to anyone who would listen, to anyone who would care, for the next many days to come. And so it has been, for the last 20 days.


PS: I wish I could have uploaded a few pictures from the day, but alas, protocols in place until the release of the film. Interestingly, Big B posted some photos and wrote about the shoot on his blog. He sent out a tweet as well!



3 comments :

  1. Bhaii! Well meeting Amitabh Bachan has got to be the best thing! Did you like take some autograph for me?
    And I loved the first paragraph...it just flows and then comes BOOM! :D

    Very well Antariksh! Mumbai had been really good to you!

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    Replies
    1. Well well well..thank you. I loved that first para BOOM too :D
      What was the biggest thing, well, I wrote about it in the post. But if you say so, be it! :P
      Thanks for the comment Shivangi!

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